Wheeling a car that feels comfortable and turns well is the goal of every driver. But that car also has to be fast. When a comfortable setup feels perfect, yet falls mid-pack or worse on the speed charts, the process to find speed becomes maddening. Welcome to Greg Biffle’s life at Roush Fenway Racing.
“It’s painfully obvious that we’ve been way off as an organization, not as a team,” Biffle says. “There’s a lot of times we go and look at the speed chart and our car is the fastest of the (RFR) group in 18th. That’s not worth ringing the bell on the back of the hauler.”
The reality of the struggle goes deeper than just a bad setup, Biffle says. Fundamental car design issues have RFR behind before they even get to the track.
“I’ve been telling the team guys,” Biff says, “and I’m convinced of this: NASCAR could cover every car at the track for five days — send everybody else home while we test. On the next weekend, we could go race and we would be better — don’t get me wrong — but we still wouldn’t be as fast as those top-5 cars.”
Ouch. What else is there to say?
There’s little hiding the fact that Biffle and the rest of RFR’s typically proud Ford operation woefully underperformed last season. Biffle made the Chase on points but was knocked out in Round 1 and was so uncompetitive that his No. 16 might as well have been invisible.
“It’s just not where we run as a company,” Biffle says. “We’re used to at least one of our cars being in the top 10, the top 5, leading laps every week. We never even led laps (last) year, really.”
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That’s not entirely true, as Carl Edwards won twice and made the Round of 8 in the Chase. He’s no longer around for 2015, replaced by an inexperienced Trevor Bayne as the team starts rebuilding in multiple ways. For those who remain, trying to understand why the RFR Fords lack speed has become exasperating.
“Is it the drivers? It doesn’t look like it,” Biffle says. “Is it the crew chiefs? Is it the engine? Well, the Penske cars have the same engine and they aren’t missing. We aren’t breaking, not having any mechanical failures. What is it?”
At least the driver, who signed a multi-year contract extension in 2014 (joining up with new sponsor Ortho), is willing to stick around and find the answer, paired up with a fresh group of engineers. Leading the RFR newcomers for 2015 is Mark McArdle, the former technical head of Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row. The industry veteran has a tough task ahead of him; according to Biffle, the team has tried every spring and shock combination on the car that RFR has used in the past 10 years. It’s produced little.
“We need to continue to try and figure out where our deficiency is,” Biffle says. “We know it’s aero. We know it’s maybe chassis. We know it could be some setup stuff. Are we going to fix it in three months? No. But, we’ve got to get it going the right direction.”
Finding that magic solution will take time.
No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Primary Sponsors: Ortho, Cheez-It
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
Crew Chief: Matt Puccia
Year With Current Team: 13th
Under Contract Through: 2017
Best Points Finish: 2nd (2005)
Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.
Born: December 23, 1969
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.